‘Deep Green’ Architect Jason F. McLennan, Creator of the Living Building Challenge, Merges His Firm with Perkins&Will 

  • McLennan and his team of regenerative design experts at McLennan Design join Perkins&Will amid intensifying urgency around global climate action—particularly in the architecture, engineering, and construction sector, which accounts for at least 40% of annual carbon emissions worldwide.
  • The merger paves the way for Perkins&Will—the second-largest architecture firm in the world—to scale up the design and delivery of low-carbon buildings across the globe.
  • McLennan becomes Perkins&Will’s Chief Sustainability Officer.

BAINBRIDGE ISLAND, Wash.—Jason F. McLennan, one of the most influential “deep green” architects of the last two decades, has joined Perkins&Will as Chief Sustainability Officer and managing director of the firm’s 28th and newest studio in Bainbridge Island, Washington.

The merger of his practice, McLennan Design, with Perkins&Will signals both firms’ commitment to reducing—at scale—carbon emissions associated with the built environment. Perkins&Will is the second-largest architecture and design firm in the world with clients and projects on nearly every continent. McLennan is the creator of the Living Building Challenge, the world’s most rigorous green building certification program, and co-author of the WELL building standard and several other industry-leading programs.

“The environmental challenges society faces right now are so significant that we must intensify our efforts around climate action,” says Phil Harrison, Perkins&Will CEO. “Joining forces with Jason and his team is part of those efforts. McLennan Design strengthens Perkins&Will’s expertise in sustainability, allowing us to expand our ‘deep green’ knowledge and best practices to clients and projects around the world.”

A complementary partnership

The two firms are already working together to design Western Washington University’s Kaiser Borsari Hall, which will be the only carbon-neutral academic facility in the Pacific Northwest when it opens in 2024. The project helped Perkins&Will introduce a prototype of its new “carbon forecast”—an analysis of a building’s whole-life carbon impact along with design strategies to optimize its sustainability profile. Carbon forecasts help clients understand the scope and gravity of their projects’ greenhouse gas emissions, in turn motivating them to pursue more aggressive carbon reduction goals. Perkins&Will plans to issue carbon forecasts for as many projects as possible and, in collaboration with McLennan Design, help clients realize those goals.

“Perkins&Will does so many great projects. My team and I are eager to help expand, amplify, and accelerate this good work, convincing clients to take sustainability one step further,” says McLennan. “Most of the world’s leading companies and institutions realize now that their license to do business is severely threatened by climate change and loss of ecosystem function. As a result, the urgency to act is more palpable than it was even two years ago. We’re as ready as ever to help those companies and organizations make the leap.”

Alignment in approach, excitement in the air

Kathy Wardle, a principal and sustainability director in Perkins&Will’s Vancouver studio—the design engine behind the recently completed SoLo, an award-winning Passive House low-energy certified project—believes the merger will have positive implications for the whole industry.

“I’ve known and worked with Jason for more than a decade, and have seen firsthand the changes he has been able to effect within and beyond the architecture profession, so I am really excited to see what’s ahead for our joint practices,” Wardle says. “While collectively we still have work to do before regenerative design becomes the universal industry standard, we’re well on our way. No doubt this union of McLennan Design with Perkins&Will is going to accelerate that.”

McLennan Design has led the sustainability strategy for such deep green projects as Climate Pledge Arena, designed to be the first Living Building Challenge certified arena in the world; the Seattle Aquarium; ASHRAE World Headquarters; and Yale University’s Divinity School campus masterplan. The firm is currently designing the greenest building in the state of Connecticut—HTMX Headquarters in Norwalk—which is expected to open later this year.

“I have tremendous respect for Jason and his work,” says Peter Busby, a design principal and member of the board of directors at Perkins&Will. “He is a consummate leader in regenerative design, which works to restore rather than ‘do less harm to’ our natural environment. That’s a guiding principle I have long espoused in my own architectural practice.” Busby’s deep green projects include Canada’s Earth Tower and the Living Building Challenge Petal certified Van Dusen Botanical Garden Visitor Center, both in Vancouver. “With the climate emergency continuing to escalate, the time is now to think bigger, be bolder, and go further than we ever have before,” Busby adds. “I’m optimistic that our partnership with Jason and his team will spur the entire industry into action.”

What to expect next

Over the next year, McLennan Design staff will work closely with firm leadership and individual project teams to:

  • Partner with clients around the world who are seeking the most innovative, regenerative design solutions;
  • Create new tools that facilitate regenerative design and planning across all Perkins&Will’s studios worldwide;
  • Expand and advance firmwide programs that enable significant decarbonization of buildings to help the industry meet its AIA 2030 targets early;
  • Lead new research into habitat impacts, biophilia, and nature-based architectural solutions;
  • Expand consulting on net-zero operational carbon and lower embodied carbon buildings, as well as healthy materials; and
  • Accelerate climate justice efforts by more closely aligning the firm’s approach to Justice, Equity, Engagement, Diversity, and Inclusion with its sustainability goals, and vice-versa.

“The wind was in my face when I started my career 30 years ago: I was labeled a tree-hugger, dismissed as impractical, and criticized for being too radical. I spent decades fighting for change, educating, and creating systems and tools to shift the status quo,” McLennan says. “Today, that uphill battle has become a tail wind, but there’s still a ton of work to do as a society if we’re to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, per the Paris Agreement, and restore the world’s ecosystems. I believe that now is the perfect time to join forces with Perkins&Will to make meaningful progress at an accelerated rate.”

About Perkins&Will

Perkins&Will, an interdisciplinary, research-based architecture and design firm, was founded in 1935 on the belief that design has the power to transform lives. Guided by its core values—design excellence, diversity and inclusion, living design, research, resilience, social purpose, sustainability, and well-being—the firm is committed to designing a better, more beautiful world. Fast Company has named Perkins&Will one of the World’s Most Innovative Companies in Architecture three times, and in 2021, it added the firm to its list of Brands That Matter in recognition of the firm’s sustainability and equity leadership. Perkins&Will was the only architecture practice in the world to earn the distinction.

For more than a decade, Perkins&Will has been involved in climate action strategies locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally. Since signing the AIA 2030 Commitment in November of 2011, the energy efficiency of the firm’s built projects increased, on average, by 27%, while overall energy use reduction grew to 58.1%. That’s nearly 10% above the AIA’s national average. Over the years, seven of the firm’s projects have won AIA Committee on the Environment (COTE) Top Ten Awards, including two projects in 2021. Additionally, the firm has taken steps to track, measure, and offset the operational carbon emissions of its own real estate. As a 2021 signatory of the World Green Building Council’s Net-Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment, Perkins&Will pledged whole-life-carbon reduction for every one of its owned and operated offices by 2030.

Other efforts—from research and development to authorship, partnership, and pledges—include:

With an international team of more than 2,000 professionals, Perkins&Will has over 20 studios worldwide, providing integrated services in architecture, interior design, branded environments, urban design, and landscape architecture. Industry rankings consistently place the firm among the world’s top design practices. Partners include Danish architects Schmidt Hammer Lassen; retail strategy and design consultancy Portland; sustainable transportation planning consultancy Nelson\Nygaard; and luxury hospitality design firm Pierre-Yves Rochon (PYR). For more information, visit www.perkinswill.com.

About McLennan Design

McLennan Design is a regenerative architecture, planning, design, and product design practice focused on deep green sustainability, community, and education. The firm was founded in 2013 by global sustainability leader and green design pioneer Jason F. McLennan. Its mission is to design socially just, culturally rich, and ecologically restorative solutions to the most vexing design challenges that exist today. The practice brings institutional knowledge and expertise of the Living Building Challenge and a host of related programs, and is experienced in virtually every building type. For more information, visit www.mclennan-design.com.

About Jason F. McLennan

Considered one of the world’s most influential individuals in the field of architecture and green building movement today, Jason is a highly sought-after designer, consultant, and thought leader. He is the winner of Engineering News Record’s 2016 Award of Excellence, and his groundbreaking certification program, Living Building Challenge, won a Buckminster Fuller Prize in 2012. In addition to creating the Living Building Challenge, Jason is the founder, former CEO, and past chair of the International Living Future Institute, and the author of seven books on sustainability and design, including The Philosophy of Sustainable Design. He also co-authored the WELL building standard. In 2013, Jason founded McLennan Design, which has played a pivotal role in creating some of the world’s most advanced green buildings. His work has been published in dozens of journals, magazines, and newspapers around the world.